Do your neurodivergent kids have friends?
Friendship is something we hope our children will enjoy in their lifetime. In some form or another, be it the friend from infanthood or the one made at primary school or through after school clubs or those with our own friends children.
When it comes to our neurodivergent children those friendships aren’t necessarily a given. Thoughts of them sitting alone at break or being excluded from games and parties plague our minds and we wonder what we can do to help our little ones to ensure they aren’t lonely.
Friendships can be tricky. It seems like a simple case of liking and being liked. For yourself. That isn’t always as easy as it sounds. All relationships are like oceans with shallows and depths, tides, calms, waves and riptides.
Of course addressing the behaviour patterns, like meltdowns, that make other children avoid our spectrum children is certainly going to be of benefit but sometimes digging a little deeper we see generational patterns…..
Fred (and his brothers) is from a family with neurodiversity on both sides of the family tree. Many of his cousins are on the spectrum and both his paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother had ASD.
Neither of the grandparents were diagnosed but with hindsight there is no doubt. Both were academically brilliant but were considered ‘eccentric’ or ‘difficult’ and both struggled with friendships as a result.
Much of our interpersonal skills are modelled by our parents and I was lucky that my father was a gregarious and charming man who had a wide circle of friends but I know from a personal perspective that as a result of not seeing how women interacted as friends I don’t have any female friends from my childhood (although I am blessed in many male friends from my youth) and how to have and maintain female friendships is something I have had to learn as an adult.
Fred has always been popular with his peers. He is a bright, funny, if wayward, individual. We have worked to help his nervous system cope with the overwhelm he experienced in certain situations so that he no longer has meltdowns, can make eye contact and he is becoming better at making wise decisions. It is an ongoing process. We have discussed sub text - something Fred was oblivious too but found fascinating as a principle and it has allowed him more insight into what others were (really) saying.
I find car journeys (thank you Steve Biddulph author of Raising Boys for this top tip) a good time for conversations of this sort. We discuss ways Fred’s contemporaries behave that he likes and doesn’t like and we try to unpick the motivation and reasons behind their behaviour and his response. His engagement can vary but I persevere.
One of our recent interventions is the one minute hug. Fred is not physically affectionate, neither is his father or grandfather before him. I am the polar opposite. I also know the myriad of benefits of hugging from the physiological to the psychological. We discussed these and Fred agreed to this as it was only for one minute. We use a timer and Fred and I hug each other for 1 minute. There is a lot of laughter as it does feel absurd and Fred isn’t comfortable but the results in only one week have been profound. Fred has actually, twice, away from the 1 minute window, hugged me of his own accord and he has also been more affectionate with his youngest brother.
As parents we are constantly persevering to help our children to develop the skills necessary to navigate interpersonal relationships, to ensure their behaviour doesn’t alienate others and give them insight and understanding into the way other people behave.
Hatch Programmes can certainly help with behaviour such as meltdowns and eye contact and through the course of our coaching calls we share many more ideas of how you can help your child integrate with their peers and form friendships - some that may last a lifetime!